Thursday, September 30, 2010

Barbara Demick on PBS Newshour talking about guess what

I like Barbara Demick. I've met her on several occasions before, and I'd say she's a person who knows she doesn't know everything, doesn't have the arrogance to think she ever will, but then goes and tries to do whatever she can to know everything anyway. She is an asset to our understanding of North Korea and of China.

So I was happy to see on my iPhone that she was a guest on PBS's Newshour (they just created a nifty little app that allows you to watch various segments which I currently just listen to on my iPod while I jog run). Here's the video:



Her fellow guest, Kongdan "Katy" Oh of the Institute for Defense Analyses was also good, and she expressed the same line that much of the media has been presenting us, that "appointing [Kim Jong-un] as general at the same time the vice chairman of the party central committee, basically, it's crystal clear that Kim Jong-il has anointed him to be his successor."

Not so fast, says Barbara Demick, echoing the "not so fast" sentiments of Kushibo. Nothing is a done deal and we shouldn't treat it as such:
And something that I have been hearing in China -- I'm based in Beijing -- is that, even in North Korea, there are some rules for legitimacy. Within the party, one needs to establish credibility and presence. So, I wouldn't say he's the successor. I would say he's daddy's favorite.
And she's not afraid to proclaim her ignorance:
MARGARET WARNER: Barbara, is there no rival power center? In other words, the fact that this son was given military appointments, does that mean the military is behind this and the elites are behind this?

BARBARA DEMICK: Boy, I hate to say this on television, but I don't know. And I don't...

MARGARET WARNER: That's actually a very refreshing answer.
Indeed it is. The fact is, nobody really knows what's going on up there. Hell, even Kim Jong-il, his sister, his son, and his daughter don't really know how this is all going to turn out.

Yet we have a bunch of journalists and analysts who are talking as if this is all a done deal not because they've analyzed everything and exhaustively come to the conclusion that Kim Jong-un will be the unrivaled future head-of-state at some day in the near future when Kim Jong-il kicks the bucket, but because, when confronted with a deadline or a microphone, everyone else is saying that and that makes it a safe bet.

If it turns out you're wrong about that, then you can claim, "Well, it's really hard to read the tea leaves for North Korea," and appeal by reminding viewers, readers, or listeners that, "Everyone else got that ascension thing wrong, too."

Well, everyone except me and Barb.

But if I had to guess right now, I'd guess that (a) Chinese-style reforms are on the way regardless who is in power, and (b) Kim Jong-un will never see the power his father has; he will either never rise up much further than he is now because of internal opposition, or he will be placed up there as a mere figurehead, à la a constitutional monarch. Alternatively, it's possible one of his siblings (my vote is on the highly capable Kim Sŏlsong) will be elevated in his stead as a compromise with those who feel Kim Jong-un is too young, too inexperienced, and too unpredictable.

Caveat to all this: I don't know either.

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